‘Mad Men’ Discussion: ‘I Am Big. It’s The Pictures That Got Small’

A brief note: Cajun Boy is preoccupied with more pressing family matters right now, so I’ll be wearing Bob Benson’s short shorts this week. Cajun will return next Monday.

This week’s episode title, “A Tale of Two Cities,” is borrowed from a Charles Dickens’ novel set in London and Paris against the backdrop of the French Revolution. This week’s Mad Men was set in Los Angeles and New York, and set against the backdrop of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, where there was another revolt taking place between the police and anti-war protestors (and even Dan Rather, who got roughed up during the convention). That seemed to be the overriding theme of this week’s episode, too: REVOLT. There were a number of small and large revolts going on in Sterling Cooper & Partners this week, but in the end, it was Pete Campbell’s poetic f**k it moment to a Janis Joplin song that became the perfect capper to the episode.

(Mad Men conspiracy theorists trying to tie Janis Joplin’s death to Weiner’s narrative may want to be on the look out for a Room 105 — where Joplin died — in future episodes).

The best revolt in last night’s episode was that of Joan Holloway, revolting against the Sterling Cooper patriarchy. She’d landed a lead with an Avon marketing executive, and after she took it to Peggy for advice, Peggy steered her toward Ted Chaogh, thinking Chaugh would do the honorable thing and allow Joan to run point on the deal. But as we’ve been learning with these past couple of episodes, Ted’s just as big of a dick as Don Draper; he just hides it better under a veneer of niceties. When Ted set Pete up to run the account, Joan revolted, taking an unwilling Peggy along as an accomplice. Though Joan brought the deal to the 5-yard line, she didn’t do so without alienating Pete and creating some friction with Peggy, who seem to be forging an uneasy alliance, feeding into many people’s theories that those two, in the end, may end up opening their own ad firm. Avon is the perfect client to build a new firm around, too.

There was, however, an awfully awkward “Oh sh*t” moment in the dinner with the Avon marketing exec where it looked like Peggy had basically hung Joan out to dry.

On the subject of Peggy: Wow!

Another revolt, which also played into the “Tale of Two Cities” theme was that between the two sides of the firm, between Sterling Cooper and the Cutler Gleason and Chaough. Fed up with the fact that too many of Cutler Gleason’s people had been lost in the merge — and with Ginsberg’s hippie outburst — Cutler made a play, first by tanking Sterling’s Manischewitz account, then by drafting Bob Benson into the Chevy campaign, and then “compromising” on a firm name: Sterling, Cooper and Partners.

Why Sterling Cooper and Partners? There has to be something insidious at play there (Cutler clearly doesn’t trust the Sterling Cooper gang), and my guess is that the new name will either make it easier for Cutler and Chaough to take their side and leave, or worse, it would be a vicious stab in the back to take the firm and the name away from Sterling, Cooper, and Draper.

Speaking of Cutler, it’s interesting that he would come up on the elevator with Moira. What’s going on there?

The other piece of that revolt was Ginsberg, who went batsh*t on Cutler and nearly ditched the Manischewitz meeting. I’m not sure what the full significance is now, but it’s interesting that Ginsberg would quote Robert Oppenheimer, who created the atomic bomb. I’m sure there’s some foreshadowing there. Ginsberg is at the end of his rope; he’s about to explode. The consequences could be grave.

It’s worth noting, too, that the penultimate episode of this season is called “The Quality of Mercy,” which is a line from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, which is about a Jewish villain. My guess is, if it follows the Megan Draper/Sharon Tate theory, that it will either concern Dr. Rosen finding out about Don’s affair with Sylvia, or potentially Ginsberg finally exploding in a serious way (recall that Lane died in the penultimate episode last year, so it would seem to follow that a major character death may come in the penultimate episode this year, too).

Leave it to good old Stan Rizzo be the man of reason. This line was amazing.

That also brings us to Bon Benson. I love the way he handled Ginsberg’s gay question with a non-answer.

I do think, however, that we’re all reading too much into a dark-timeline Bob Benson. Look what he was listening to:

That’s How I Raised Myself from Failure to Succeed by a failed baseball player turned salesman, Frank Bettinger, who wrote that after teaming up with Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People). Check out Bettinger’s 13 Secrets to Success in Sales, and it’s basically Bob Benson to a tee. He’s clearly been drinking the Bettinger Kool-Aid. The only question is, what “failure” in Benson’s past is he raising himself from?

Then again, maybe he, like Don Draper, has stolen someone else’s identity. Someone spotted this over on Reddit. Notice the sleeves. The symbolism is either that he’s wearing an identity he’s not big enough to fill, or he’s inhabited someone else’s life, literally or metaphorically.

That brings us to Pete, who got screwed left and right last night. The easy argument to make is that Pete is a dick, and the way he handled the Joan situation with Avon certainly suggests as much. But the other argument is that, beneath his prickish veneer, he was right. Joan avoided protocol, and though it looks like she may land the client, she put her own interests ahead of the firm’s in pushing Pete out, which is a total Don Draper move. But then again, until Joan lands her own clients, she’s always going to be the one who slept her way into a partnership, a fact that not even Peggy is willing to overlook, though Joan handled that line of thinking quite well with Pete.

But I think Pete may be right, too, about the intentions of Cutler and Chaough. “Trust me,” Pete said. “That name is a consolation prize. It’s a gravestone to our resistance.”

I should also mention that as perfect as that Janis Joplin song is for that scene, the song in my mind was still this one. Also, I KNOW I’ve seen that shot before, but I just can’t place it yet.

Then, there is the “other” city, Los Angeles, where Don, Roger, and Harry went to woo the Carnation people. Let’s suss out the the fun stuff first. Like, how about this guy?

For those who don’t remember him, he is Danny, the copywriter who Don stole the “the cure for the common …” tagline from, and then had Sterling Cooper had to hire him to cover their asses. He is a sleazy little weasel, and it’s appropriate that he’s a Hollywood producer. Unfortunately, with as many brilliant cut down lines as Roger delivered to that fat little weasel, it was Danny who got the last laugh.

Also, Harry: YOU ARE A PIMP.

But Roger wins the best-dressed award for last night’s episode.

Then there is the Don and Megan stuff, and I feel like I’m going to need a couple of days and another rewatch to fully process it, and I want to circle back around and expand on this later in the week. Right now, there is so much going on, and fairly or unfairly, everyone is now viewing Megan’s plotline through the prism of Sharon Tate, so when we see her dressed like this:

Many of us may jump to a picture of Sharon Tate in a headband:

But maybe the more appropriate reference point is the ad for Carnation (via Cajun Boy), the very client that Don and Roger were out in Los Angeles to woo.

See? Our judgment has been clouded. So at the end of the episode, when Don asked Dawn to get Megan on the phone, and the episode ended before we saw Megan again, many of us quickly jumped to the conclusion that Megan is dead (despite her appearance in the “Next on Mad Men scenes). I love the Sharon Tate theory, but if you look into Weiner’s past, on a couple of occasions, he’s used symbolism and references to misdirect us (elevator shafts, and Pete’s impending suicide), although looking back on season six, there were also several clues to the death of Lane. So, it’s hard to say if he’s foreshadowing or misdirecting. If it’s misdirection, it’s my guess that it’s Betty who falls prey to the increased violence in New York City, something potentially foreshadowed by her visit to NYC in the opening episode, as well as the fact that — after last week’s episode in which Don and Betty slept together — Betty’s utility to the show has been exhausted. She no longer serves a purpose. The fact that she lives outside of the city is the perfect irony, and since she is the wife of a political candidate, and since assassinations have become frequent, it’s not a stretch to think that Betty is the unintentional target.

Who knows? Weiner’s tea leaves lead us into several directions. However, the Don Draper stuff is more straightforward. I mean, how do you get more obvious than this:

The scene also doubles as a reference to Sunset Boulevard, which like A Star is Born — referenced in this year’s opening episode — is about people who are on their way down, career-wise. In Sunset, the forgotten Norma Desmond shoots the up-and-coming Joe Gillis. In A Star is Born, it’s the forgotten character who kills himself, while the up-and-comer makes big. There’s a lot of parallels here in the lives of both Megan and Don, not to mention the fact that Sharon Tate was also an up-and-coming actress, too. The reference is certainly intentional, but to what?

The callback during the hashish hallucination to the soldier in the opening episode, and the Zippo, and the reminder of Dick Whitman once again raises that spectre of a Don/Dick shift.

The biggest running theme throughout season six has been duality, from “The Better Half” to “A Tale of Two Cities” to the two firms merging, and at the center of all that is the Don Draper/Dick Whitman duality. This, more than anything, is what the season is all about, and everything I predicted in the pilot — about the Don Draper identity dying, and Dick Whitman resurfacing — has only been strengthened by subsequent episodes. “Dying doesn’t make you whole,” the soldier says to Don, and as Megan says in the hallucination, “Everyone is looking for you.”

They’re looking not for Don Draper, but for Dick Whitman. Except that Whitman will return, in some form, by season’s end. Until then, we’ll always have Don Draper with a hookah to appreciate.